on Assertiveness

I say

I feel
Manuel J. Smith, Ph.D.

The bestseller that helps you say: "I just said 'no' and I don't feel guilty!"

Are you letting your kids get away with murder?

Are you allowing your mother-in-law to impose her will on you?

Are you embarrassed by praise or crushed by criticism?

Are you having trouble coping with people?

Learn the answers in When I say no, I feel guilty.

The bestseller with revolutionary new techniques for getting your own way by Manuel J. Smith, Ph.D.

[from the back cover]

Smith, When I Say No, I Feel Guilty

About the Author

Clinical-experimental psychologist Manuel J. Smith is the author of When I Say No, I Feel Guilty, which has sold over two million copies. A therapist in private practice and assistant clinical professor of psychology at UCLA, Dr. Smith has done research in social psychology, learning, phobic states, psychophysiology and sexual functioning. His work has appeared in various professional publications including The Journal of Experimental Psychology, Psychology Report, Current Research in Human Sexuality, and Experimental Methods and Instrumentation in Psychology. He is a member of The American Psychological Association, The Society of Psychophysiological Research, The Western Psychological Association and the California State Psychology Association, and has lectured widely in his field. Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1934, Dr. Smith received both his B.A. (1959) and M.S. (1960) degrees from San Diego State College, and his Ph.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles (1966). He and his wife live in Los Angeles.

[from the softbound edition]

Table of Contents



Our inherited survival responses; coping with other people by fight, flight, or verbal assertiveness
Problems other people give us: is conflict inevitable?
Our primitive survival behaviors: how we become so aggressive or tend to avoid other people.
Our verbal problem-solving ability: the unique difference between us and other animal species.
How learning to feel anxious, ignorant, and guilty as children can make us passive, manipulable, and nonassertive as adults. Can parents control their children's behavior without making them feel anxious, ignorant, or guilty?



Our prime assertive human right -- how other people violate it
How we are manipulated into doing what others want.
ASSERTIVE RIGHT I: You have the right to judge your own behavior, thoughts, and emotions, and to take the responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon yourself.
How we can stop being manipulated by other people.
The manipulator's basic tool: external structure. Need there be rules to cover every situation?
Three ways to simplify how you look at your relationship with anyone else: commercial, authority, and equal interactions.
Is being assertive immoral or illegal?



Our everyday assertive rights -- the common ways other people manipulate us
ASSERTIVE RIGHT II: You have the right to offer no reasons or excuses for justifying your behavior.
ASSERTIVE RIGHT III: You have the right to judge if you are responsible for finding solutions to other people's problems.
ASSERTIVE RIGHT IV: You have the right to change your mind.
ASSERTIVE RIGHT V: You have the right to make mistakes -- and be responsible for them.
ASSERTIVE RIGHT VI: You have the right to say, "I don't know."
ASSERTIVE RIGHT VII: You have the right to be independent of the goodwill of others before coping with them.
ASSERTIVE RIGHT VIII: You have the right to be illogical in making decisions.
ASSERTIVE RIGHT IX: You have the right to say, "I don't understand."
ASSERTIVE RIGHT X: You have the right to say, "I don't care."



The first thing to learn in being assertive: persistence
Assertive rights and assertive behavior: Both are important in living assertively.
Substituting verbal persistence for silent passivity.
The systematic skill of BROKEN RECORD. Habit: How people talk you into doing what they want.
Practical goals in being assertive: WORKABLE COMPROMISE, keeping your self-respect, and the limits of being assertive.



Assertive social conversation and communication
Why are we often tongue-tied?
The conversational skills of following up FREE INFORMATION and SELF-DISCLOSURE.
Disclosing your own worries to other people: One way to stop manipulation.
Eye-to-eye contact: An important part of assertive behavior.



Assertively coping with the great manipulator: criticism
Nonassertive critics: How they manipulate you into doing what they want.
The systematic skill of FOGGING. Agreeing with critical truths and still doing what you want. Agreeing in principle with logical criticism and still doing what you want.
Agreeing with the odds that you will fail and still doing what you want.
The systematic skill of NEGATIVE ASSERTION.
Asserting your negative points: What you can do when you are 100 per cent in error.
Coping with compliments or criticism: They are no different when you are assertive.



Prompting people you care about to be more assertive and less manipulative toward you
Assertively inquiring about yourself and what you do: How this eliminates right and wrong statements used to control your behavior.
The systematic skill of NEGATIVE INQUIRY.
Prompting criticism: How it can reduce manipulation.
Prompting criticism about your work performance: How this can lead to a promotion.
Prompting criticism about yourself: How this can lead to a closer relationship with people you care for.



Everyday commercial situations -- assertively coping where money is involved
Putting the systematic skills together to cope with typical commercial conflicts: Door-to-door salesmen. Returning defective merchandise. Angry customers. Getting defective merchandise fixed. Dealing with the public. Getting repairs or refunds from auto dealers. Problems in getting and giving professional medical treatment.



Everyday authority situations -- assertively coping with supervision or expertise
Using systematic skills to assert yourself in authority interactions: Between employee and supervisor. In a job or graduate school interview. Choosing between job offers. Speaking to an audience or presenting a report. Between parents and children. Between teachers and students. With teen-agers.



Everyday equal relationships -- working out compromises or just saying "No"
Using assertive skills to cope with people who are equal to you, but not as close as some: Lending out your car. Imposing neighbors. Friends who want a business loan. Interfering parents. Dates and lovers who manipulate you.



Really close equal relationships -- sex and assertion
Asserting your sexual wants and your other wants: the wants are different, the assertive behavior is the same.
Fear and Anger: the emotional bases of sexual difficulties.
The Anxiety Model, the Anger Model, and the Mixed Model: treatment modes for sexual problems.
Learned sexual problems and how they can be treated with relearning.
How being nonassertively passive or manipulative can contribute to sexual difficulties.
How being assertive can help with changing your sexual lifestyle: Hidden anxiety agendas about change. Compromises on different sexual wants. Assertively prompting your partner to learn new ways with you to overcome a routine sex life or a routine lifestyle.
Anxiety, passivity, and lack of sexual foreplay. Decrease in sexual frequency: a sign of withdrawal of close contact with a mate, in and out of bed.

In Summary


Do you want to assert yourself or do you want to control other people?
What happens to society if a lot of us become more assertive and less manipulable?

Suggested Technical Readings


Glossary of Systematic Assertive Skills


[from the softbound edition]


Each of us, at times, gets into situations that confuse us. A friend, for example, asks you to pick up his aunt flying in from Pascagoula at 6:00 p.m. The last thing in the world that you relish is fighting the traffic rush to the airport and then trying to make bumper-to-bumper conversation with someone you know zero about, without giving her the idea you wish she had stayed in Mississippi. You rationalize with: "Well, a friend's a friend. He would do the same thing for me." But other nagging thoughts intrude: "But I never asked him to pick up anybody for me. I always did it myself. Harry never told me why he couldn't pick her up. How come his wife couldn't do it?"

In situations like this, all of us feel like saying: "When I say 'No,' I feel guilty, but if I say 'Yes,' I'll hate myself." When you say this to yourself, your real desires are in conflict with your childhood training and you find yourself without cues that would prompt you in coping with this conflict. What can you say? If I say "No," will my friend feel hurt or rejected? Will he not like me anymore? Will he think I am self-centered, or at least not very nice? If I don't do it, am I an uncaring son of a bitch? If I say "Yes," how come I'm always doing these things? Am I a patsy? Or is this the price I have to pay to live with other people?

These internal questions on how to cope are triggered by an external conflict between ourselves and another person. We want to do one thing, and our friend, neighbor, or relative assumes, hopes, expects, wishes, or even manipulates us into doing something else. The internal crisis comes about because you'd like to do what you want but are afraid that your friend may think what you want is wrong; you may be making a mistake; you may hurt his feelings and he may reject you because you did what you wanted; perhaps you fear that your reasons for doing what you want are not "reasonable" enough (you don't have a broken leg and the Feds aren't looking for you so why can't you go to the airport?). Consequently, when you try to do what you want, you also allow other people to make you feel ignorant, anxious, or guilty; the three fearful emotional states you were trained as a child to feel when you don't do what someone else wants you to do. The problem in resolving this conflict is that the trained manipulated part of us accepts without question that someone else "should" be able to control us psychologically by making us feel these ways. With the innately assertive part of us suppressed by our training in childhood, we respond by countermanipulation to the frustration of being manipulated. Manipulative coping, however, is an unproductive cycle. Manipulatively dealing with another adult is not like manipulatively dealing with a little child. If you manipulate adults through their emotions and beliefs, they can countermanipulate you in the same way. If you again countermanipulate, so can they, and so on.

When I Say No, I Feel Guilty
pages 24-25

You have the right to offer no reasons or excuses to justify your behavior.

As with the remaining assertive rights listed in this chapter, the right not to give reasons for what you do is derived from your prime assertive right to be the ultimate judge of all you are and do. If you are your own ultimate judge, you do not need to explain your behavior to someone else for them to decide if it is right, wrong, correct, incorrect, or whatever tag they want to use. Of course, other people always have the assertive option to tell you they do not like what you are doing. You then have the option to disregard their preferences, or work out a compromise, or respect their preferences and change your behavior completely. But if you are your own ultimate judge, other people do not have the right to manipulate your behavior and feelings by demanding reasons from you in order to convince you that you are wrong. The childish belief that underlies this type of manipulation goes something like this: You should explain your reasons for your behavior to other people since you are responsible to them for your actions. You should justify your actions to them... People who I teach to be assertive, invariably ask, "How can I refuse to give reasons to a friend when he asks for them? He won't like that." My answer is a series of provocative questions in reply: "How come your friend is requiring you to give reasons to explain your behavior?" "Is that a condition of his friendship, that you allow him to make decisions about the appropriateness of your behavior?" "If you don't give him a reason for not lending him your car, is that all that is required to end your friendship?" "How valuable is such a fragile friendship?" If some of your friends refuse to acknowledge your assertive right to halt manipulation by being your own judge, perhaps these friends are incapable of dealing with you on any other basis but manipulation. Your choice in friends, like anything else, is entirely up to you.

When I Say No, I Feel Guilty
pages 47-49

In teaching people to cope with manipulative criticism from other people, I instruct them not to deny any criticism (that's simply responding in kind), not to get defensive, and not to counterattack with criticism of their own. While at Sepulveda V.A. Hospital, in originally giving patients a starting point in learning to cope with criticism in this different way, I suggested that as a rule of thumb, they might learn faster by verbally replying to manipulative criticism as if they were a "fog bank." A fog bank is remarkable in some aspects. It is very persistent. We cannot clearly see through it. It offers no resistance to our penetration. It does not fight back. It has no hard striking surfaces from which a rock we throw at it can ricochet back at us, enabling us to pick it up and throw it at the fog once more. We can throw an object right through it, and it is unaffected. Inevitably, we give up trying to alter the persistent, independent, nonmanipulable fog and leave it alone. Similarly, when criticized, you can assertively cope by offering no resistance or hard psychological striking surfaces to critical statements thrown at you.

I have used other labels such as agreeing with truth, agreeing in principle, or agreeing with the odds to describe this assertive skill when it is used in everyday situations to cope with manipulative logic, argument, guilt- and anxiety-inducing statements. My original clinical slang term of fogging seems to have made some permanent impression, however, since my colleagues and graduate students (and I myself) continue to use it even though it is an inadequate description of the many ways we can verbally assert ourselves using this skill in different situations.

Irrespective of the label used to describe this powerful assertive verbal skills, we can use it to cope in the following ways: (1) We can agree with any truth in statements people use to criticize us (agreeing with truth). For example, if an overprotective mother keeps checking up on her daughter even after the daughter no longer lives at home, the daughter might respond to her mother's criticism of implied or suggested wrongdoing with assertive fogging, as one of my patients, Sally did:

MOTHER: You stayed out late again, Sally. I tried to call you until twelve thirty last night.
SALLY: That's true, Mom, I was out late again last night.

(2) We can agree with any possible truth in statements people use to criticize us (agreeing with the odds). In the case of Sally and her mom, if Mom criticized her with a statement of direct wrongdoing, Sally might still respond with assertive fogging.

MOTHER: Sally, if you stay out late so much you might get sick again.
SALLY: You could be right, Mom, (Or, That's probably true. Or, I agree with you, Mom, if I didn't go out so often I would probably get a lot more sleep.)

(3) We can agree with the general truth in logical statements that people use to manipulate us (agreeing in principle). In the case of Sally's mother, if she persisted in trying to impose her own rules of living upon her daughter's lifestyle, Sally could continue to assert herself with verbal fogging.

MOTHER: Sally, you know how important looking good is to a young girl who wants to meet a nice man and get married. If you keep staying out late so often and don't get enough sleep, you won't look good. You don't want that to happen, do you?
SALLY: You're right, Mom. What you say makes sense, so when I feel the need, I'll get in early enough.

When I Say No, I Feel Guilty
pages 104-106

[from the softbound edition]

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When I Say No, I Feel Guilty

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Other Books by
Manuel J. Smith, Ph.D.

Learn more about these books also written by Manuel J. Smith, Ph.D.:

When I Say No I Feel Guilty, Vol. II,
for Managers and Executives

Yes, I Can Say No:
A Parents Guide to Assertiveness Training for Children

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